Just the name of that church conjures up all sorts of images in our mind. It was a church that was tepid, bored, and apathetic–overconfident in their own spiritual condition. In short, they were lukewarm.
And, as we all know, Jesus told them plainly, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16).
Spiritually speaking, the Laodicean church could be summarized in a single word that (unfortunately) captures the ethos of our modern culture: “Whatever.”
The problem, of course, with being apathetic is that you can actually be apathetic about your apathy! Put simply an apathetic church does not think it is that big of deal. But, here are some reasons apathy is a bigger deal than we think:
1. Apathy towards Christ can be more dangerous than enmity towards Him. The fundamental reason people miss the problem of apathy is because they assume its better than being an enemy of God. It’s halfway to being committed, they think, and thus better than being against God. It’s a step in the right direction.
But, Jesus disagrees. For him, apathy (at least in some ways) is worse than enmity towards God. “Would that you were either cold or hot!” (3:15).
It is actually the “whatever” type of person sitting in the pew that is hardest to reach. Why? Because they say to themselves, “I need nothing” (3:17).
As the author George MacDonald once said: “Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.”
2. Apathy towards Christ is the religion of our age. Another factor that makes an apathetic church a problem is that it feeds our culture’s perception that religion is best in moderation. Ironically, while Jesus says apathy is the worst spiritual condition, our culture contends that it is the best!
For the most part, mainline churches in modern America are actually aiming for the middle ground. They want enough religion to be respectable, but to not so much that they are viewed as zealots.
Parents tell their children that they shouldn’t be atheists, but, at the same time, they tell them not to take this religious thing too far. Lukewarm religion is actually the goal.
In a culture like this, the last thing the evangelical church needs to do is to feed this misunderstanding. This is why John Stott thinks that the letter to Laodicea may be one of the most important for the modern church:
Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic, we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath.
3. Apathy towards Christ is out of sync with his worthiness. The core problem with Christian apathy, the thing that makes it so serious, is the thing we are apathetic about, namely the person of Christ.
There is an enormous disparity between the glory, wonder, and beauty of Christ and our bored, tepid, “whatever” sort of response to him. And it is this sizable gap between what Christ is worth and our lackluster reaction to him that makes apathy such a problem.
And that sort of gap raises serious questions about a person’s spiritual health and vitality.
For example, if someone found themselves at a middle school art fair, it would be fairly understandable if they found themselves bored and unimpressed with the quality of the art.
But, if that same individual stood in the Sistine Chapel and looked up at the wondrous work of Michelangelo and was still bored, then there would be something seriously wrong with them.
Simply put, apathy is a problem because it misses the whole point of Christianity: the greatness of Christ.
In the end, these three factors remind us that apathy is a bigger problem than we think. So what can be done about it?
Christ himself gives the answer in his letter to Laodicea: “I counsel you to buy from me” (3:18). A renewed vision of the beauty and greatness of Christ is always the ultimate cure for apathy.
And Christ invites his people to experience him afresh: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20).
In this verse Christ is drawing on the Song of Solomon, presenting himself as the groom and his church as the bride. And he is asking his church to fall in love with him all over again.